Raging at the incompetency of a large, faceless corporation via their outsourced call centre is an experience that most of us have had to endure.
Rather than let these complaints lead nowhere, web entrepreneur Anthony Mittelmark had the idea to give consumers a public online platform, called uVent, to air their gripes.
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The business mentioned in each “vent” is given the chance to make amends, with rivals able to match or better their offer in order to entice disgruntled customers.
We spoke to Mittelmark to allow him to vent about his new business.
What gave you the idea for the business?
Most customer service experiences are private – no-one really measures the follow-up service you get from a business.
We want to make that post-purchase experience public. It relates to the old world issue of churn, which most companies quantify but don’t really do anything about.
Businesses spend money on marketing to get new customers, but when you divide it by the number they also lose to other businesses, there is a lot of money being wasted.
I came up with the idea eight years ago, but I didn’t really feel that it would work until the likes of Telstra and Vodafone were willing to engage with the public. They’ve now got big social teams, so I thought it was a good time to go for it.
What’s your background?
I worked at Sensis and I was the first general manager of CarSales.com.au. I sold LinkMe.com.au and I was the head of digital at DMG Radio.
I was doing a bit of consultancy, but the PR has gone off for this idea. I haven’t really seen anything like it before. To be honest, spending time on the phone now is worrying me a little.
What’s the reaction been like so far?
We’ve opened it up from private Beta and it has gone wild in the last 72 hours. In the last three hours, there have been 17 ‘vents’.
I’ve launched plenty of start-ups for major brands and I’ve never seen this kind of reaction. But we want to build it so that it’s balanced on both sides – we don’t want it to be a 100% consumer focused business.
We want to show companies the upside of getting involved.
Won’t this site just attract the professionally grumpy and serial complainers?
It’s interesting – what you expect people to complain about isn’t the case on the site. There are so many brands that get mentioned, covering all demographics, men and women.
There are serial complainers and you’d think the vents would be more ranty than they actually are. Most of the vents are quite detailed and calm. They are coming from people who have gone through a customer service experience at a big company and not got the outcome they wanted.
Consumers now don’t care about brand loyalty. Since the internet came long, there’s been a juxtaposition between brand value and utility value.
Brands are now defined by their utility value – you can show a commercial with people dancing on a field, but that doesn’t say how the service will actually work and how it is any good.
It doesn’t take much to convert a complaining customer into a positive advocate. Some people raise issues that are stupid or taking the piss, but most of them are issues many of us would identify with.
I know this very well myself – I was on hold to Qantas for 41 minutes the other day. Who wants to be on hold for 41 minutes?
What has your pitch to businesses been?
I’ve said to them that they can use the platform to retain existing unhappy customers and also acquire new customers.
These people are already willing to switch – it’s a warm lead. They just need a better offer to be made to them.
Some of the businesses were resistant, but a lot of them are into PR advocacy. Businesses that pick up customers via warm leads instantly understood the appeal.
The vent will go out from a customer and it’s then a race between the business the customer is already with and its rival. It allows customers to play one business off another and decide which one will offer them the best service.
How are you going to monetise this?
It’s free to read the vents, but you can’t respond to them. It’s free to vent if you’re an unhappy customer.
If you’re a business, you can subscribe to vents that mention your company. This is done on the cost of acquisition and the cost of keywords on Google – we are still in the negotiation stage, so we do this on a case by case basis.
The usual customer acquisition amount is $100, but that varied. I used to think you could charge a fixed fee, but we tried that on LinkMe and it didn’t work.
The highest level of subscription is to get notifications of vents in your industry. Therefore, you get to see complaints about your rivals. You can then take the conversation offline with a customer.
What are your ambitions for the business?
Like I say, I’ve never seen a start-up heat up like this before. We’re aiming for 15,000 vents a month, which equates to revenue of $10 million a year.
We are looking for capital now, but we want to get it right here in Australia first. We want companies to use it as a tool and get value from it. We don’t want to be megalomaniacal about it and say it’s the Facebook of complaints. We’re being very prudent.